A Family Tragedy Unearthed in Newspaper Archives

Last week, I decide to search for instances of the surname Dubnick in the available online newspaper archives at Newspapers.com. I was hoping to shed some light on the lives of my great grandfather Jacob Dubnick and great grandmother Rose Finkelstein. I have very little information about them, other than a number of census records, a marriage certificate indicating that for some reason they eloped in Waterville, Maine,[1] and a death record for my great grandfather, who died in 1936 at age 39.[2] Other than that, their lives are a mystery.

I find it very puzzling that my great grandparents got married in Maine. They both immigrated from the Russian Empire as youths and spent most of their lives in Brooklyn; our family has no known connections to New England. Perhaps there was a family connection in Maine, or perhaps they were seeking to start over as farmers to escape the city.[3] According to my aunt, Rose had worked as a maid in Jacob’s family’s house, and his parents disapproved of the marriage, so perhaps that drove them to run away to start a new life. Regardless of why they went to Maine, they weren’t there for very long.

I now know that they had returned to Brooklyn by 1922 because my newspaper archive search turned up a horrific tragedy that occurred in 1922: three children, reported to be 5, 3, and less than a year old, were trapped in a fire. The two older children escaped the fire. The article gave their names as Bessie and Hyman Dubnick, my great aunt and my grandfather.[4] The youngest was a four-month-old baby boy named Morris, whom I had never heard of before. He burned to death in the fire. Eighteen other families had to be evacuated.[5] According to another article, by the time the firemen were told that there was a baby still in the building, it was too late to save him.[6]

Because the ages of the two older children were reversed in order, and given the fact that I had never heard about a sibling named Morris before, I initially thought perhaps this was another family that happened to have similar names. But by looking up the baby’s death certificate, the details of which were available at FamilySearch.org, I was able to confirm that indeed, Morris Dubnick was a child of Jacob Dubnick and Rose Finklestein; he was born in 1921 and died in 1922.[7]

I continued to search and found a number of articles in newspapers published in New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania; the story made the national wires. The details varied. All of the article said that Mrs. Dubnick, referred to as Rose in only one of the articles, left the children alone, either to run to the store or to help another tenant (she was apparently the “fanitress” of the building).[8] One article speculated that the older children had been playing with matches, but the others mentioned no such thing.[9] A more detailed article explained that over the next day several more people died from their injuries resulting from the fire.[10] Oddly, none of the articles mentions the whereabouts of the father, or even his correct name. At this point, I can only speculate where he might have been. What I can state with certainty is that Rose and Jacob had three more children. As I mentioned above, Jacob died quite young, in 1936,[11] and according to family members, Rose only lived a decade or so longer; at this point I do not have the exact date.

I am glad to have discovered this information, as sad and disconcerting as it is, because I know so much less about Jacob and Rose Dubnick than I do about my other great grandparents. Otherwise, their lives remain, for the time being, a mystery.

 

[1] See marriage record. Ancestry.com. Maine, Marriage Records, 1713-1937 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.Maine State Archives; Augusta, Maine, USA; 1908-1922 Vital Records; Roll #: 17.

[2] “Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948.” Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives.Ancestry.com. New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

[3] For general information about why Jews relocated to Maine, see the website Documenting Maine Jewry at http://www.mainejews.org/background.php#arrive.

[4] “Three Children Trapped by Fire,” The Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downlaoded Apr 7, 2015 from http://www.newspapers.com/image/6877461

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Baby Dies in Fire, 18 Families Saved,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/57098007

[7] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795–1949,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WV2-WQT : accessed 7 April 2015), Morris Dubnick, 26 Jan 1922; citing Death, Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm.

[8] “Mother Away, Baby Boy Dies in Flames,” The Evening World (New York, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from http://www.newspapers.com/image/78858614

[9] “Baby Dies in Fire, 18 Families Saved,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/57098007

[10] “Mother Away, Baby Boy Dies in Flames,” The Evening World (New York, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from http://www.newspapers.com/image/78858614

[11] “Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948.” Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives.Ancestry.com. New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

 

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